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Once green card holders have met certain criteria for residency status, they can apply for U.S. citizenship by filling out Form N-400, formerly known as the Application for Naturalization.
Naturalization is known as the process of becoming an American citizen. The U.S. government agencies involved in the naturalization process are Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)—the agency responsible for processing green card applications, naturalization applications, and other immigration forms—and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
As of 2020, the fees associated with your naturalization application are: $725 to submit Form N-400, $640 for processing, and $85 for biometrics services. All fees are non-refundable, whether your application is approved or rejected.
You may be anxious to know what takes place after filing Form N-400. Although the steps are relatively uniform, the timeline for becoming a naturalized citizen varies based on a few factors, including USCIS’ caseload, the USCIS office where you filed your application, and whether your application was properly prepared. The following outline explains the key steps and wait times for each step of the Form N-400 application process. It applies to most applicants and is written with the assumption that each form and step is completed properly.
USCIS field offices throughout the U.S. handle the immense number of applications USCIS continuously receives, and each applicant’s ZIP code determines to which regional office their application is allocated.
If you change address during this process, you must notify USCIS within 10 days to update your application. You can do this by contacting them via phone at +1 (800) 375-5283 to change the address associated with your pending naturalization application.
The number of applications a particular USCIS field office receives directly affects that office’s processing speed; therefore, processing speeds can vary greatly. For example, less populated areas may have shorter wait lists than larger cities like New York City and Los Angeles.
This guide will help you determine if your processing time is normal for your region or whether you should make a USCIS inquiry. We cover the Form N-400 filing process and provide how long you should expect to wait between each step. If your application processing time seems excessive or out of the ordinary, you can raise an inquiry with USCIS.
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Notification of Application Receipt
Typically arrives 2-3 weeks after filing your application.
If you fill out and file your Form N-400 accurately and properly, USCIS will send an initial notification in the mail confirming receipt of your application. This notification is called a Notice of Action, formally known as Form I-797C, and it typically arrives 2-3 weeks after you’ve filed your application.
If there are any errors in your application, you will have to resolve any issues highlighted by the USCIS and, in some cases, provide evidence or additional information about yourself, which will significantly lengthen your processing timeline. The sooner you’re able to provide the requested evidence, the sooner your case can get back on track.
Appointment Notice for Biometrics
Typically arrives 3-5 weeks after filing your application.
USCIS will send a notice for a biometrics appointment that you’re required to attend. The appointment will take place at the USCIS Application Support Center nearest you.
Rescheduling this appointment will lengthen your application process significantly, so try your best to attend the appointment initially scheduled for you by USCIS.
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Typically occurs 5-8 weeks after filing your application.
Your biometrics appointment shouldn’t take too long, often around 30 minutes. During this appointment, you will have your fingerprints taken so USCIS can conduct clearance and criminal background checks. Every applicant undergoes this process, so there’s no reason for alarm. USCIS will also collect your photograph and signature.
You may have to bring extra documentation with you to your appointment, such as:
- Passport or national photo identification issued by your country
- Driver’s license
- Military photo identification
- State-issued photo identification card
Please be aware that this is not your application interview. Your biometrics appointment serves to collect your biometric information only.
If you think you may have a criminal record —even if it’s something that doesn’t seem obvious, such as a DUI—it’s wise to contact an immigration lawyer before attending your appointment. Some crimes will render you unqualified for benefits from immigration. Before your appointment, you should ask your lawyer to request a background check and deal with the results as necessary.
Appointment Notice for Application Interview
Could arrive anywhere between 5-9 months after filing your application.
USCIS will send a notice for your application interview by mail. This notification is called a Notice of Action, also known as Form I-797. The appointment will take place at the USCIS Application Support Center nearest you.
Attending this appointment as originally scheduled is imperative. Failure to do so could add months to your application process.
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Typically occurs 7-11 months after filing your application.
Like your biometrics appointment, your application interview should last under about 30 minutes. Your USCIS officer will review your application with you thoroughly to ensure the information you initially provided is still correct. Your ability to understand the questions you’re asking during this interview will help part of your English comprehension test, so it’s important to fully understand the process before attending the interview.
In addition, your USCIS officer will ask you to read and write an English sentence, oversee the history/civics evaluation, and assess the results of your background check from your biometrics interview. If there are any problems or something shows up as out of the ordinary on your background check—such as a previous prosecution or taxes owed to the government—then you will undergo even more questions and examinations.
In some cases, your USCIS officer will not be able to make a decision regarding your application’s approval or rejection and your application will extend further. This extension may mean you need to provide supporting evidence or even come back at a later date for a second interview.
After your interview, the USCIS officer will give you your Naturalization Interview Results, known as Form N-652. Your application will be either granted, continued, or denied:
- Granted — USCIS may approve your Form N-400 if the evidence on record establishes your eligibility for naturalization.
- Continued – USCIS may continue your Form N-400 if you failed a test or did not give USCIS the correct documents. This will extend your application and add time to correct the problem(s) noted.
- Denied — USCIS will deny your Form N-400 if the evidence on record establishes you are not eligible for naturalization.
If you are told at the appointment that you have received tentative naturalisation approval, then waiting for the notice with the place and time of the oath ceremony will be the next step.
Notice of Oath Ceremony
Typically arrives 1-4 weeks after your application interview.
If your Naturalization Interview Results deem you’re eligible for naturalization, USCIS will send a Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, known as Form N-445, by mail shortly after your interview. This notice will include a request to answer some additional questions that you will provide at the actual oath ceremony.
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Oath of Allegiance Ceremony
Typically occurs 8-12 months after filing Form N-400
Administered by USCIS or a court judge, you will take an Oath of Allegiance. All applicants are required to do this. You are not a U.S. citizen until you complete the Oath of Allegiance ceremony. After this process, you will turn in your green card and receive your Certificate of Naturalization!
Overall, Form N-400 processing time can take anywhere from 8-12 months after initially filing your application. This length is an approximation. It can be shorter or longer, depending on various factors. In some instances, USCIS will make requests for additional information or even arrange an additional appointment.
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Don’t forget: With your receipt number, you can check your case status online. Normal processing times are also mentioned on the USCIS website. If you believe that your case is outside of the normal processing time, you can make a case inquiry with USCIS. However, the timeframes in this guide are the general waiting times for Form N-400 from start to finish and every case is different.
Be sure to take your time with Form N-400 and all other application-related forms. Fill them out to the best of your ability to help keep the process as efficient and quick as possible. Mistakes could add months to your processing wait time.